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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Discussing Ignosticism: Does Ignosticism Refute God?


A reader raised a valid concern regarding ignosticm. He stated:

"It's worth noting that ignosticism doesn't support atheism; at least under certain definitions. By asserting atheism you assume a definition of god that you reject. At which point the ignostic answer is to ask "what's the atheistic definition of god?" How can you reject such an entity if you have yet to define it?"

This is correct. Ignosticism doesn't actually disprove the possibility of God being extant, or the existence of any gods or goddesses, for that matter. I actually talk about this some more in my book on Ignosticism, by the same title.

At best ignosticism shows that most, if not all, definitions of God are invalid due to the problem of coherency (or lack thereof, in this case) and comprehensibility (or, again, lack thereof).

Just a quick remind of how I am using the terms comprehensibility and coherency.

Coherency here concerns itself with whether or not an argument, theory, policy, or in this case, description is logical and consistent. Most theological descriptions of God are not.

Meanwhile, comprehensibility has to do with whether or not we can discern and understand God well enough to supply a valid description. Although, it appears this is impossible. Hence, these are the two areas where ignosticism objects to descriptions and definitions of God being taken at face value.

It's true that ignosticism doesn't disprove the existence of God. But it's not meant to. It's only meant to challenge the logical consistency of definitions regarding God and show that minus this, our ability to comprehend God would seem impossible, thus rather futile.

If such a being as God exists at all, all ignosticism can hope to show is that nobody is capable of adequately defining it (God), in which case it might as well be irrelevant, since it cannot be talked about in any relevant manner that would be meaningful to us. In order to talk about something meaningfully it has to be both coherent and comprehensible first.

What I show in the book is that ignosticism is, at the least, compatible with all atheistic assumptions (hint: there's only one assumption here -- that there is no God).

I would offer a small correction where our reader suggests that there are atheistic definitions of God: this is wrong. In actuality, there is no atheistic definition of God. Atheism simply rejects the *theistic claim, the one that says there exists a God (this being the alternative hypothesis) because, upon closer inspection, this claim cannot seem to be established let alone validated as it fails to nullify the null hypothesis (the null hypothesis in this case being the natural world as we observe it, minus any supernatural propositions).

Assuming there is a God that can be described adequately enough to nullify the null hypothesis is the theist's position, and multiplies assumptions about reality beyond the necessity of the atheist who already agrees with naturalism's view of reality.

Now, one might wonder why naturalism is the null hypothesis? Well, because this is the starting point. This is where we posit the question of whether or not there is more to the world than we observe. In other words, you begin at zero then count up to one. You don't begin at one, or two, or three, or a dozen and then assume zero isn't a valid starting point. Zero assumptions is the null hypothesis, and making zero assumptions about reality, that's where we start.

Atheists merely take the view that, when it comes to describing something like God, the null hypothesis must be defeated by an alternative hypothesis before any assumption can be taken seriously. Ignosticism confirms this assumption by demonstrating that all descriptions of God fail to nullify the null hypothesis and establish a valid alternative hypothesis, e.g. the existence of a discernible, comprehensible, God.

As such, based on this logical progression, I thus contend that ignosticism is an additional justification for the reasonableness of atheism.

Unsatisfied with my answer, our reader comes back to his original point.

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but 'atheism' is the rejection of the claim a god exists. As such, in order to properly reject such a claim, you must first have a proper definition. Otherwise you can't be certain of what you are rejecting. That is, if you happened to define 'god' as the sun, atheists would (by definition) reject the existence of the sun.

If this is not the case, then the atheistic position has it's own definition of a god, which is then rejects. Otherwise 'atheism' itself is undefined and illogical to accept.

The only way out of this is to say that atheism rejects the term god itself, rather than any possible thing it represents. Which to me seems a bit silly."

At this point I tried to explain things another way. 

Atheism takes no stance on how the God proposition is presented, except to say that as it is commonly presented there is no evidence to prove such a proposition, and lacking such a demonstration the proposition is prima facie false.

In other words, the validity of atheism is not dependent on the underlying semantics of how the theist chooses to represent, and ultimately, define their version of God.

Does that make sense?

So, the positive claim being made here is the theist's claim. Mainly, that God is extant. And thus God being an object that exists, they claim to be able to derive a description of this being.

The atheist position is merely a response to this claim being presented, regardless of how the theist chooses to define their terms.

The atheist, for the sake of argument, can accept the theists proposition and take it at face value, whether or not they are ultimately true. For example, the atheist could say, sure, you believe that the Sun is god, but then, all you have is a definition with no real world value. No meaning. In order for that statement to be meaningful, we'd have access to some evidence that demonstrates the claim is true, otherwise it's a baseless assertion.

Once supplied the definitions of the theists God, the atheist can make logical deductions to determine whether or not such a description is logically sound, whether or not it is evidenced, etc. until they have scrutinized it thoroughly enough to evaluate the proposition.

So, you see, the atheist can accept terms or reject terms because it's less about singling out any given definition of God than it is singling out whether or not any of these definitions can be justified and, ultimately, can be verified.

As such, having evaluated the proposition and the terms supplied by the theist, the atheist says the theist has yet to meet the burden of proof, and therefore no real demonstration has been provided, thus the theist's claims about God are baseless. 

This being the case, it doesn't appear their is any evidence to propose such a God in the first place, hence it would seem the theist position is wrong, therefore God does not exist.

Back tracking for a moment, once a definition has been supplied by the theist, this is where the ignostic becomes concerned. The ignostic points out that the description of God isn't actually describing anything, and this is a problem. The ignostic observes that for a description to be valid, it would have to be both logically consistent and comprehensible.

Now, in theology, there are, of course, logical descriptions of God. But this doesn't in itself justify the definition of God as true to the conditions of which it was constructed. That is, the next step in ignosticism asks whether the description provided is true because it accurately describes the thing itself (the referent, or in this case God) or whether it's true because it meets all the requisites of a logical conceptualization.

I personally hold that most logical descriptions of God fit into the latter category, thus nothing has actually been proved other than the fact that genuinely smart theists are capable of constructing logically consistent definitions.

But God has not been made comprehensible, just coherent. For God to become entirely comprehensible to us we would need to understand the thing we were examining. 

Not having anything to examine, theologians often will say God is incomprehensible, beyond our understanding, a safeguard themselves from criticism so they won't need to meet the burden of proof, but can still use their logically consistent definitions as apologetic tools to prop up their proposition with the illusion of, at least, appearing true--even as that has not been demonstrated.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Quote of the Day: G.W. Foote (On Faith)

"What is Faith? Faith, said Paul, “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This is a faith that sensible men avoid. The man of reason may have faith, but it will be a faith according to knowledge, and not a faith that dispenses with knowledge. ... Religious faith, however, is something very different. It is not belief based on evidence, but the evidence and the belief in one. The result is that persons who are full of faith always regard a demand for evidence as at once a heresy and an insult. Their faith seems to them, in the language of Paul, the very substance of their hopes; and they often talk of the existence of God and the divinity of Christ as being no less certain than their own existence." --G.W. Foote

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Bonus Quote! (Even more) G.W. Foote (On the meaning of the word 'God')

"The word 'God' means anything or nothing. Give your God attributes, and see if they are consistent with Evolution. That is the only way to decide whether there is any 'logical antagonism' between Evolution and Theism. The trouble begins when you are 'logical' enough to deal in definitions; and the only definition of God that will stand the test of Evolution is 'a sort of a something.'" -- G.W. Foote

Quote of the Day: (More) G.W. Foote (Science frees the mind, Religion shackles it)

"We tell the men of God, of every denomination, that they are Devil Dodgers, and when they cease to be that their occupation is going. Old Nick, in some form or other, is the basis of every kind of Christianity. Indeed, the dread of evil, the terror of calamity, is at the bottom of all religion; while the science which gives us foresight and power, and enables us to protect ourselves and promote our comfort, is religion’s deadliest enemy.

Science wars against evil practically; religion wars against it theoretically. Science sees the material causes that are at work, and counteracts them; religion is too lazy and conceited to study the causes, it takes the evil in a lump, personifies it, and christens it “the Devil.” Thus it keeps men off the real path of deliverance, and teaches them to fear the Bogie-Man, who is simply a phantom of superstition, and always vanishes at the first forward step of courage."  -- G.W. Foote

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Quote of the Day: G.W. Foote (Jesus Christ is a Myth)

"Christ has in no wise redeemed the world. He was no god of power, but a weak fallible man like ourselves; and his cry of despair on the cross might now be repeated with tenfold force. The older myth of Prometheus is truer and more inspiring than the myth of Christ. If there be gods, they have never yielded man aught of their grace. All his possessions have been cunningly, patiently, and valorously extorted from the powers that be, even as Prometheus filched the fire from heaven. In that realm of mythology, whereto all religions will eventually be consigned, Jesus will dwindle beneath Prometheus. One is feminine, and typifies resigned submission to a supernatural will; the other is masculine, and typifies that insurgent audacity of heart and head, which has wrested a kingdom of science from the vast empire of nescience, and strewed the world with the wrecks of theological power." --G.W. Foote

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Ignosticism 101: The Negative Space forms an Elephant or A Conversation with Rockhound570 theist

I am having a conversation with a person who goes by the name Rockhound570 theist about ignosticism and the implications of it as it relates to God

He brought up a point that many people, in my experience, often seem to be confused about. It seems there is an ongoing debate in theology as to whether or not we can fully comprehend God, should such a being exist. Or, as some contend, God is so far beyond our understanding that we cannot grasp him.

Before moving on, let's not forget that the first question relating to ignosticism asks, "What do you mean by God?"

This is a fair question, and a good starting place I might add, since human experience tells us that humans have invented a wide range of religious customs and beliefs, have erected competing religious ideologies, and have subscribe belief to a seemingly endless supply of supernatural deities and gods. 

So, as you can see, "What do you mean by God?" is a very good question to ask before getting too deep into theological discussions.

Now here's the thing. Ignosticism says it should be relatively easy to find an agreeable definition for God and what the term "God" actually means. Ignosticism holds that if God is real then all we need do is look at the referent (the thing itself) and simply describe it. If everyone's answer matched, then we'd all have a working definition for God. But this doesn't appear to be the case. 

So, naturally, theists like Rockhound (or Rocky for short) suppose that God simply isn't comprehensible. We just cannot understand or perceive God fully enough to explain in any greater detail. As such, we can only perceive God dimly, or as St. Thomas Aquinas suggested, we can only recognize him why what he is not -- sort of like feeling out the empty space in a room and determining that it is the ever illusive elephant in the room.

But I have a different suggestion. My suggestion holds that, if ignosticism is correct in its assessment, the reason nobody can agree as to what they mean when they talk about "God" is *not because they haven't fully comprehended God but because there are different competing definitions for supposedly the same thing.

In response to my article on Ignosticism being the best argument against God, Rocky stated that

I don't care about human definitions of God. I care about whether or not God exists as a reality independent from the capability of humans to adjudicate. That is a more fundamental question than any you have asked. That requires clarification from you before you can logically proceed.

Earlier, I suggested that all definitions of God are conceptually derived. In my book titled Ignosticism, I explain that we have two ways in which we ultimately settle on definitions. There is the first method, in which definitions are pragmatically derived -- that is, we observe a referent (i.e., the thing itself),  like an apple, and then we test and examine it thereby supplying the information we all need to recognize and reasonably describe what an apple is. 

As such, "apple" is merely the name we assign to the referent (the thing itself), and the description of its features or characteristics supply us with a working definition for it. In this case, we have a crunchy, juicy, greenish / or redish / or yellowish fruit with a delectable sweetness or sourness and an easily recognizable fragrance, which all people can agree upon whenever they stumble upon the thing in person, and can say quite emphatically that it is an apple.

I have mentioned that other cultures, and other languages, will name the referent (the thing itself) differently. This is to be expected. Thus, in Japanese, an apple is called "ringo." But the fact remains, the description of an apple, whether you are American, Japanese, or Russian, will always match everyone else's description since we are all reliant on the same referent (the thing itself) that we must derive our description from. 

Hence, we have pragmatically derived a proper definition from the referent (the thing itself) by observing, testing, and examining it.

Now, there is another kind of definition which is derived, not from any object, but from an idea or concept. 

These sorts of definitions are not explaining anything in the real world but, rather, these definitions are the combination of ideas and concepts which, together, form a conceptual framework in which we can better understand said ideas or concepts. 

An example of this would be the concept of a Democracy. Democracy isn't a thing unto itself that has any referent in the real world. Instead it is a political ideology regarding how we ought to organize societies and what rights citizens ought to be allowed in such societies. The democracies that exist today do not supply us with the definition of what constitutes a democracy, rather, the definition of a Democracy gives us the ability to descern and recognize what constitutes working democracies.

What this means is that the concept of a Democracy is a collection of specific, yet recognizable, political philosophies and ideologies collected together to form a conceptual framework for what we mean by the term "Democracy." Therefore, whenever we see a system of government that contains these specific political philosophies or ideologies, we will call it a Democracy.

This is what I call a conceptually derived definition, since we lack a referent to describe but we have, in essence, a well established or elucidated concept or idea. 

During our conversation, it seems that Rocky took umbrage at my suggestion that the term "God" was conceptually derived, although I don't see how it could be otherwise. Allow me to explain.

All definitions of God, if derived from a referent (the thing itself) would presumably match -- that is, they would be in agreement with one another about the thing they were seeking to describe -- just as we saw was the case with apples. But this we do not find.

Rather, definitions of "God" tend to vary drastically, since people are using religious templates to create their ideal God based on subjective experience, usually through the lens of their culture and/or religion, of what they feel or believe God to be. In my mind, God is clearly a conceptually derived idea.

We know this precisely because we can ask anyone what it is they mean by "God" and what it is any particular definition of God seeks to describe? If there was actually a referent (the thing itself) which people could experience first hand, as with apples, then whatever they might call God, whether it be Yahweh or Allah or Vishnu, at least they would be explaining a tangible referent (the thing itself) and their definitions would align. But this we do not find. Which, I feel, is a big indicator that we are absent a referent and are in all likelihood dealing with competing conceptualizations.

Rocky went on to add that

You say that I must supply a third party referent. That implies that the human psyche can fully and adequately grasp the concept of God so clearly that all humans will agree upon it. How do you know this is so? 

Naturally, my suggestion that a third party should be capable of describing a referent (the thing itself) in virtually the exact same way was to point out that regardless of culture or background, everyone knows how to describe an apple to someone else of a different culture or background -- and that between the two of them they can agree on what apples are. 

But when it comes to God, this kind of semantic agreement is virtually lacking. Why? Because there is no centralized source to derive a common definition from. Rather, it seems to be the case that all definitions of "God" are conceptually derived, thus lending to a divergence in opinion on what "God" is or what attributes he (or she) has. What this means from the point of view of the ignostic is that God is a semantically confused term.

Continuing in our conversation, Rocky goes on to say:

That just leads me back to what I asked before. How do YOU know that such a definition is even possibly attainable? Why is such a definition needed if the real project is to try and decide if a transcendent reality that gave rise to all that exists is possibly there. By implication, it must be, or God is just an individual concept. OK. Well and good. That is a truth implication that you must clarify before we can proceed. If you cannot, your thesis is founded upon a non-provable supposition and it fails. I am quite certain that I can supply more challenges than this first simple one that comes to mind. If just really seems that you are trying to evade the deeper question of God's existence simply by citing the cloud of confusion of defining something that may not be fully available to limited human perception.

To which I replied:

**We know, at least, that humans can recognize other intelligent minds. If God is not an intelligent mind, of a sort, then what is it you claim to be experiencing -- when by your own admission it is not comprehensible? 

If it's incomprehensible to you, and you cannot makes sense of it, then how do you know it's God? If it is truly incomprehensible, then I have to say ignosticism is justified by the very fact that what is incomprehensible cannot also be coherent, since the prior nullifies the latter.

In other words, you cannot have a logical and consistent argument for that which is incomprehensible except to say that it is incomprehensible, and you've gotten nowhere. Are you saying God is incomprehensible? If so, the problem seems obvious. There can be no suitable definition for God, since any experience we may have of him would be meaningless since it is incomprehensible to us.

If, on the other hand, God is comprehensible, then my prior claims with how to approach this information still holds. If God is comprehensible, then we should expect, at the very least, to be able to come to agreement of that which we have comprehended. Otherwise, the problem of dissimilarity arises all over again, and we just come back to God being incomprehensible, and thus irrelevant to human experience.*

Please keep in mind that ignosticism doesn't disprove the existence of God, per se. Rather, it simply observes that there is an undeniable semantic confusion, and that in all likelihood this confusion is caused by God being conceptually derived rather than pragmatically derived. 

One possibility is that all anyone has are their individual conceptualizations, in which case, God is a figment of human imagination, a mere fancy. On the other hand, there is a real possibility that God exists but there is simply no way to know him,  that the referent (the thing itself) is out there but simply beyond our perception or understanding, in which case the ignostic's claim would revert back to the theological noncognitivist's position that it is meaningless to talk about something which cannot be talked about meaningfully. 

I think that addresses the theist's confusion as to whether or not God is comprehensible. If the theist is to believe in any God that is a Personal being or a Perfect being, then God has to, by his very nature, be discernible to us. Otherwise we could not know him and he would be rendered irrelevant to human experience. Similarly, anything said about such a God, such as him being a God of love, or him being a transcendent being, would all be lies. Unable to know anything about God, we wouldn't know anything about his basic attributes except to say he was supremely illusive. And such a God cannot be anything but irrelevant to us.

I rather think the simpler explanation, however, is that God is a type of conceptualization -- and people simply have conceived of different, often competing, ideas and concepts for what they feel God is and what the term "God" means to them personally.

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist